Discovering Self Love Through Yoga
Living life for right now
Photo Credit: Snowflake by AMagill
One of the things that the journey towards Body Acceptance has taught me is that "later" is not my life. My life is now. My life is is a series of precious moments not meant to be wasted.
I used to make myself all kind of "later" promises, only instead of "later", I used "when I am thinner", or "when I lose another ten pounds", or "when I am more confident", or "when I can wear a size 14 or lower"... and the list goes on and on and on, forever.
Are you sensing a theme here?
I think that the reason so many of us in bigger bodies or non-conformative bodies do this to ourselves is because everywhere we look the people doing the things we want to do seem to be thinner, more confident, happier, etc. And we tell ourselves we need to get to that place before we can do them too.
But I'm about to blow your mind here: that isn't the truth. It's just that media is really fucked up. Advertising and media is completely skewed to one particular body type and so that's what we SEE in television ads, magazines, billboards, and flyers. In real life, people of all shapes and sizes do awesome things EVERY day. So why can't we?
When I started realizing that I was putting off so many things I wanted to do or try because of my size, I also realized how much of life I'd been denying myself for so long. And why? Because I thought I would enjoy the activity more when I was thinner? Probably not. In my case, once I dug deep I discovered that it was because I thought I didn't deserve it until I was thinner. And that's really the kicker, isn't it? It often comes back to our sense of self-worth. That's when it hit me that my self-image needed some serious work. And it is work, don't get me wrong. It still is work, almost every single day. I haven't reached some sort of body-image enlightenment where confidence comes super easy. It's gotten easier. But some days, it's still really rough. And that's okay. It's all part of the process.
Every time I catch myself saying that I'll do something "later", I try to stop that line of thinking right in its tracks. Then I remind myself that if I had told myself that I would become a fat Yoga teacher "later", I probably never would have done it. And becoming a Yoga teacher is, easily, the best decision I have ever made. I had never dreamed I could be so happy and so passionate, doing a job I love right down to my tippy toes. And yet, here I am doing just that. Here's the cool part: Once you start living life for right now, you realize how awesome it is and it gets easier to get brave about doing things right now!
The bottom line is that you deserve happiness right now. You deserve joy and play and love and desire and wonder right now. You deserve to live your life fully in this moment. And this moment. And this one.
So I have a challenge for you: Today I want you to eliminate at least ONE "later" from your list and do it RIGHT AWAY. Whether it is the purchase of a new pair of jeans you've been putting off until you're a certain size, or signing up for a new activity, a new tattoo, a new hairdo, or saying hello to that person you've been crushing on. Promise yourself, today, that you'll pick ONE thing (or more) from your "later" list and do it right now. And don't forget to tell me in the comments what you're committing to do to live your life NOW!
And hey, you know, if Yoga is on your "later" list, babe - I got you. I'll see you on the mat!
"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
So you might have noticed that Body Positivity Yoga is now The Fat Yogini. Let me tell you why...
Some days, it seems like just yesterday that I was practicing Yoga in my jammies in the early hours of the morning to a well-used VHS tape - in secret.
That was actually a very long time ago; around twelve or thirteen years ago, though I am fairly sure that I've lost count by now. What I do know is that I was absolutely terrified to tell anyone I was practicing Yoga. I was sure that whomever I told would explode in guffaws of laughter at the idea of a short fat girl like me in Downward Facing Dog or Tree Pose.
But still, eventually I grew braver and knew that I wanted to talk about my experiences. And so I considered blogging. It was then that I came up with the name "Fat Yogini". I started blogging privately and called it "Diary of a Fat Yogini", sure that I would share it with someone, someday. Eventually, I did - but only with my closest friends.
But I continued to fondly think of myself as the Fat Yogini. It was a playful moniker that made me feel like I was reclaiming something that I once thought of as negative as a beautiful thing not because of itself necessarily but because it was a part of me. To my delight, that sense of self-appreciation continued to grow. And now, sometimes, I hardly recognize myself! And yet I see myself more clearly now than I ever did before.
And that is what makes this path to Body Acceptance, to Body Positivity so amazing, and so transformational. But it isn't without fear. It isn't without faltering. And I have days that are hard, too.
I'll be honest. When I began my path to become a Yoga teacher, I thought I was as confident as I could possibly be. I loved myself and had come as far as I could on this body-loving journey. Little did I know how much more growing I would do. That I still need to do. Reality check.
So, the process of naming my business has really been a sort of Evolution. It began with an idea. A dream. I wanted to share my story and bring this journey of a beautiful practice and a surprisingly aligned path to body acceptance together into a cohesive whole that people could relate to. I had a crystal clear vision of my dream but no idea what to call it so that other people would see it too. So I tried on one name and then another and finally settled with Body Positivity Yoga.
But then a friend recently asked me why I'd never claimed the name, The Fat Yogini, for who I am as a Teacher. His question caught me off guard, but once I could look past my fear of change and, to some degree - vulnerability, it also really hit home. I had been The Fat Yogini for many years. I just wasn't sure I "should" call my business that.
In the process of teaching, I find that I always have so much more to learn. I learn from my students. I learn from other teachers. But one of the most impactful things I've learned so far, is that the best thing I can do as a Teacher is to be authentically me, even when that is a bit scary. The time for "shoulds" is over. Teaching Yoga is about authenticity and vulnerability and recognizing that life, Yoga, and body acceptance are each a process - a practice, maybe even an evolution.
While Body Positivity Yoga is the Yoga that I practice and that I teach, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am. I have a story. We all do. My story is about The Fat Yogini. And THAT is what I am so passionate about sharing with all of you.
And so I have come back to where it all began. Only this time, there is no fear - only a feeling of elation and empowerment.
Lisa, The Fat Yogini
Inspired and Excited!
Despite a few glitches in the way my morning went, I have to say that the Platform For Plus Size event went very well!
The venue, downtown Vancouver's own Vancity Theatre, was really lovely. It was intimate and very well laid out. It gave the symposium participants the opportunity to actually connect with one another, which can be hard to do at a large scale event.
As for the speakers, my favourites were Christina Bianchini, Louise Green, and of course Jennifer Livingston. These women shared their own journeys from a place of personal experience and the message from them all was body-positive and inspiring. To quote Louise Green, "Live Life Now". And to quote Jennifer Livingston, "You are more than a number on a scale."
I have to say, after Jennifer's keynote, I am pretty sure there was not a dry eye in the house. She spoke about her journey to body-acceptance from a place that was both vulnerable and raw. I'm sure that everyone in the room could relate to her story. So many of us had people who told us that we'd "be so much prettier if you were thinner" . So many of us know what it's like to be bullied because of our size, weight, or appearance. It is sad and frightening how relatable this story is. And it is why I am so fired up... so passionate about sharing this body-loving journey with other people.
While working my Body Positivity Yoga table, I had some really great conversations and connected with some great people, including other local business owners who are working toward shared body positive goals.
And I'm super excited about all the new opportunities that this experience will bring.
And here's where I say that I hate to leave you all in suspense - but there are some very exciting announcements coming soon. Make sure you're subscribed to my newsletter and liking me on Facebook so that you can be among the first to know!
I am featured in today’s edition of The Vancouver Sun – one of the biggest local newspapers in the area! It’s great news! I was super-pumped for this article to come out.
Yet here I am, admitting to all of you that what I really wanted to do when I saw the article this morning, was cry.
I had a blast during the interview, talking about my passion for body positivity and yoga. The reporter jotted notes furiously throughout our conversation and verified several quotes. It was a surprisingly positive experience. I didn’t feel led in any way and I feel like the reporter took the time to understand my position.
After the interview, she sent out a photographer to take a bunch of photos of me doing yoga so they could pick one for the article. The photographer was nice, got me to relax, and got so many really, really great pose photos. The weather had cooperated. It was a beautiful day and my feet were planted on my mat on a huge expanse of bright green grass with a gorgeous blue sky above me and sunlight just lighting me up from head to toe. I felt like a supermodel! Especially as I heard the shutter clicking away and the photographer calling out “That’s just BEAUTIFUL!”. The whole experience felt amazing from start to finish.
Knowing that the article was scheduled for today's edition of the paper, I rushed to the store this morning to pick up my copy. The article is fairly well done, all things considered. I’m not in love with the title because the term “super-size” has negative connotations and subtly perpetuates the fast-food eating fat people stereotype. But in general, all of us who were interviewed for the article shared a common goal – to create a safe, healthy, welcoming space for people of size to get healthier, regardless of any weight-loss and I think that message came across in the article, edits and all.
But when I saw the picture of me, my heart sunk and I got that tight, restricted feeling in the pit of my belly. Here I was, looking at a picture of myself in the newspaper. Something that probably thousands (or more!?) people will see. And I don’t like the picture.
The photographer took just a very few frames of me in Warrior II pose from this diagonal-to-me angle. When he showed me the photos quickly near the end I loved almost every single one. Except that one.
So seeing that particular photo in the paper set off a major internal rant. And so the monologue of negativity began: This angle is wrong! Warrior II is usually pictured from the side. I'm squinting and not smiling. It looks like I'm straining, not at all easeful in the pose, even though I was. I was squinting into the sun which was probably the reason for the scrunched not-smiling face. My belly looks all soft and relaxed in front, in spite of the fact that my core was engaged, making it look larger than it normally does, my alignment looks funny but I know I set up the pose properly. Where is all the beautiful grass and sky and trees that surrounded me? I really don't like the angle...
It seemed neverending and I was sure that I could never run out of bad things to say about the photo, which is kind of counter to the entire point - which was to show realistic images of me, a fat yogini, doing yoga. One of the things I was most excited about was the chance to be a source of some real representation in media of what is possible in a larger body. So why was I freaking out about my belly looking large when that is exactly the point of it all?
And the answer to that question is this: because I've spent many more years hating my body than I have loving it.
Self-love is hard. It’s not like you snap your fingers one day and you suddenly love your body. Body acceptance and body-love and confidence are things that have taken a great deal of work and that work isn’t finished. It probably won't ever be finished. It’s a journey. And, just like any other transformative process, some days are going to be easier and some, harder. And so, today, it's a harder day.
I have never felt so exposed or so vulnerable as I do today. But putting myself out there is exactly what I want and need to be doing. It’s what I am passionate about.
Putting myself on display, as a fat yogini and Yoga teacher is how I show the rest of the world that being fat doesn’t have to stop you from living your life or following your dreams. It is by being willing to be highly visible, by walking the talk, that I hope to inspire and motivate others to live life fully and completely, right now.
The truth is, I probably would have felt uncomfortable no matter which photo they chose to print. Because it's really not about the photo at all. It's about the fear of living my life unapologetically within a society that expects me to be embarrassed and ashamed of my size.
And so, I am going to do what I advised in the previous article. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to breathe right through the discomfort. Because I am also aware that this article represents a turning point for me and my teaching. I am on the cusp of setting up public group classes. Things are happening and momentum is building. What began, for me, as a teeny tiny baby dream is becoming a reality. And that is the magic and the joy of this process.
So I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m reminding myself that I am strong, I am confident, I am beautiful, and I am okay – exactly as I am. I’m reminding myself that I am safe and that this is just one more awesome step in the journey to living my passion.
And, once I’ve broken through the discomfort, I know that what I will feel is proud: proud of myself for doing what I love, for standing up for what I believe in, and for following my dreams – no matter how scary that path is sometimes.
It's Okay to Sweat
This coming Wednesday is Love Your Body Day! Amazingly,, this will be its 15th year!! How awesome is that?
While I encourage you to love your body every single day of your life - it often is helpful to have a special reminder that you are perfect just the way you are., and that the advertising and representations seen in popular media are not at all a true reflection of what your body should be.
Loving your body, in a society that trains us to think of our bodies as never good enough, is hard work! It isn't usually something that you just flip the switch on and suddenly start thinking "I'm FABULOUS" every time you see your reflection in the mirror. Usually. I'm sure it happens for some people, I'm just throwing it out there that for most of us, it's a practice. And it takes commitment.
To illustrate this, I wanted to share something that I experienced recently that reminded me that this is a journey - every single day.
I recently had two new yoga experiences, both of which I had been avoiding to a certain degree for some time: hot yoga and an intermediate detox flow class that one of my favourite teachers offers several times a year. In both cases, I had been intimidated on several levels by the idea of going. On some level, I'm sure I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up, and on another level it is always scary going into a "new" yoga environment as I once again walk into the class as (usually) the only fat yogini in the room. I tend to be cautious, dipping my toe into new experiences a bit at a time.
The reality is, that I am almost always pleasantly surprised by my experiences. I just sometimes need a little nudge to get me there.
With the hot yoga, it was one of my Bear students who provided the nudge. He was going and offered me a free pass to check it out with him. We made arrangements to meet up for a hot yin yoga class, which felt accessible to me.
With the detox flow class, I knew it was going to be challenging, but my instructor, Ariel, was very encouraging and told me I could totally handle it. She nudged.
I was surprised by both of these experiences.
At hot yoga, I discovered that while the heat was intimidating when I first stepped into the studio, that I found it pretty soothing once we got into the poses. And, I didn't feel self concious about sweating because everyone was sweating or expected to sweat in hot yoga. I had borrowed a yoga mat towel and found that because I wans't worrying about sweat making my mat slippery (or the ick factor of dripping all over everything), that I relaxed about the sweating and actually enjoyed it. Who knew!?
I decided to try using the yoga towel when I went to the detox flow class as well, and found that, once again - I was way less "stressed" about sweating. Another thing I learned at the detox class was that I don't give myself nearly enough credit for my capabilities sometimes! Yes, I was the only fat yogini in the room. But, I also noticed that when I had to modify something it was not because I was not capable or strong or flexible, but because my body just isn't shaped the same. So, my thighs hit my belly sooner than for someone else because I have more thigh and more belly. So what? When I skipped a down dog or did knees down for plank, was I getting a less effective or less meaningful experience than my down doggin', plankin' classmates? Of course not! My abs were working hard, my arms and shoulders were working hard, and I was squeezing and twisting and getting all the same actions in my body.
In both of these experiences, though, I learned something mind-blowing.
I learned that it's okay to sweat. Maybe people don't realize this, but there is a lot of imagery and jokes out there making fun of the fat person working out that picture them just sweating buckets. I know very few bigger-bodied people that are not self-conscious about their sweat. I imagine it's for the same reason that those same people may feel self conscious wearing sweats in public or not having makeup on or eating any food in public that could possibly be construed as "unhealthy": it's because we try so hard to avoid looking like the stereotype, so that we can avoid being judged.
And really, it's bullshit. Everyone eats. Everyone sweats. Everyone likes to be comfortable. So yeah, sometimes I'm going to be kickin' it in some sweatpants, or enjoying a hot dog outside at the beach, or sweating when I work out - just like any other person. It doesn't make me a "bad fatty". But it can be hard to overcome that mental patterning.
So what if I sweated it out more than anyone else in the room? Maybe I did... maybe I didn't. I felt like I was just drenched from head to toe. So what? All that I can control is how I view myself and how I treat my body. And my body LOVED the sweating.
The more I sweated it out, the more liberated I felt. I was sweating! Buckets! In PUBLIC! And it felt great. I felt empowered.
Yeah yeah, you say. It's just sweat.
No, my friends. It's not just sweat. It's freedom! Just like it's freedom to wear what you want, dress how you want, eat based on the choices you make (not the choices made for you), and live your life with utter and complete abandon.
And this is why I practice yoga.
Every time I get on my mat, it is an opportunity for me to check in with my body, and how I feel about my body. Do I feel frustrated with my body or its abilities? Do I feel solid and supported? Do I feel embarrassed or unstable? When I begin my yoga practice, I become one with my body - with everything I am feeling physically and with my thoughts about my body as they pass by. It's an important touchstone. It helps me to be aware, and to adjust as I need to - whether that adjustment is needed in the pose I'm holding or the mental patterns I'm stuck on.
Over this past week, I realized I was stuck on my own issues and hangups and fears about sweating. I broke free from that mental pattern. Another little victory.
But the work isn't finished. It continues every moment of every day, with every breath I take and every single time I step on my mat.
It's a hard and beautiful journey to love your body. Journeys are better with good company. Travel with me. We'll do this thing - together.
A Parable of Fat's Creation
One of my teachers, Ariel Pavic, pointed me in the direction of Gil Hedley's work recently, and I had the great pleasure of reading his article, "How I Fell in Love with Fat" which was published in Spirituality and Health magazine in the winter of 2007.
The article was heady and wonderful, written from the perspective of an intellectual who sees the magic in the human body. His work is unique, unlike anything I've ever seen. He offers workshops and seminars that intersect biology and energy. And in this article, he talks about the wonders of the layer of fat in the human body - of adipose tissue.
I wasn't sure what I was going to think at first, but as I read the article, I discovered that what he was describing was beautiful.
Fat is not just something we "put up with" in our bodies. No, fat does so much more than that. It serves a purpose, multiple purposes and, as Dr. Hedley points out in his article, it is what creates the body's unique shape, especially in women.
How amazing to realize that what makes us look like us and not near clones of one another is the very thing we are so constantly at war with.
It was profound and wonderful to look at fat as a living organ of the body with a biological, and spiritual purpose.
When I read his "Parable of Fat's Creation" he'd written for the article, I was dumbstruck. It so poignantly spoke to the beauty of fat, and made me think about my body in a completely different way. I transposed his words onto the image he'd chosen for his article to share with you all. The combination of this wonderful image by Richard Wilkinson (an image I've loved for some time) and Dr. Hedley's Parable make a powerful combination.
I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I have!
On being scale-free
*Trigger warning: Some discussion of past dieting/body-shame issues*
Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga recently published a fantastic blog post about some of her recent thoughts and experiences during her commitment to go scale-free for six months.
Her post inspired me to do some writing about my own scale-free experiences: why I chose to do it in the first place, why I continue to do it, and what I get out of it.
When I first decided to go scale-free, I think I was just tired. Not physically tired as much as emotionally tired. I had gotten into the habit of weighing myself at least twice a day, most days. It was a throwback from my old points-based dieting years. My fancy digital scale even shows me my weight to the tenth of a pound. After all, those dieting gurus always said that every little bit counts right? But, naturally, that means each little bit counts in each direction. And, given that heavier is supposedly "bad" and lighter is supposedly "good", the scale was my judge and jury and my punishment should the scale show my weight was higher than the last time was shame, a feeling of unworthiness or incapability, frustration, and self-reproach. The mental dialogue would begin: "If only I hadn't had that extra helping at dinner or that cream in my coffee". And so I would berate myself for every supposed mis-step because, every little bit counts don't ya know?
When I made the decision, with my wife's support and encouragement, to stop dieting - it was mostly because I realized that dieting had created a very unhealthy relationship with food. Food was about control. The points system that I used to sing the praises of was my downfall. I had an allotment of points to use each day and so the majority of my time was spent thinking and planning about how to get the "most" out of them. I became an expert on the foods that would give me the most "volume" of food for the least points so I wouldn't feel deprived. I did not think about hunger or fullness signals. I did not think about what my body was craving or why it might be craving it. No, what I thought about was things like - "I can have TWO baked potatoes with fat free cottage cheese or only one chocolate bar for the same amount of points!" I wasn't thinking about which my body wanted or needed or which would actually make me feel satisfied. It was all about volume. I was good at it. I felt in control. I could eat LOTS of food if I just ate the right things. I realized that this process was making me into a food-obsessor. It's all I thought about or talked about. That was when I realized I needed to take a break.
I had to accept that walking away from this lifestyle of food and points-budgeting was going to be hard if I was also obsessing over my weight. So when the points sytem went.... so did the scale.
First I cut back to weighing myself once a day. I noticed that was upsetting me because I was refusing to do the points system anymore so even the tiniest fluctuation on my fancy digital scale (that showed each tenth of a pound!) would send me into a panic.. So, I weaned myself to once a week. This went on for a while, but each trip to the scale would have me judging myself and my choices..
Then finally, about a year ago, I realized the scale had to go. I needed to trust myself and my body and just stop obsessing. So I put the scale away. In a cupboard and out of sight.
I think I have checked my weight exactly once since that day.
I can't even begin to describe the freedom this change gave me. When I first backed off the scale, I kept waiting to experience this massive weight-gain. My only way to really be aware of my body size was to notice how my clothes fit, and I kept expecting to balloon up in size. It never happened. I maybe went up one size from my lowest size ever.
But the most amazing thing is how my relationship with food changed. I think about my body more when I eat. I think about what my body is craving. I think about when I'm hungry and I notice, far more often, when I am full. I am not answering to anyone for my food choices - only how I feel. So, if I get a burger and fries and a shake and notice that my belly feels heavy and icky after, next time I crave that kind of food, I'll get a much smaller amount or split a burger and entree salad with my wife so I can have a little of what I crave without making my body feel abused in the process.
I came to a lot of these understandings about developing a healthy relationship with food - on my own. And then, I read Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. That book validated my experiences. Until then, I'd wondered, somewhere in the back of my mind if avoiding the scale was just my way of beign "lazy". After all, society tells us that if you're fat - it's okay only IF you're trying to stop being fat. Right? Reading that book reaffirmed all the reasons why I ditched the scale in the first place.
Armed with more information, I now have no problem standing tall, looking people in the eys and saying things like:
"I have no idea what I actually weigh"
"No, I'm not trying to lose weight"
"No, I don't diet anymore - period"
"Yes, I would like a piece of cake - thank you!".
In the beginning, ditching the scale had felt like my dirty little secret; the kind of thing I should never admit to anyone. But what I have come to realize is that it was really one of my greatest accomplishments and I am damn proud of it!
Nowadays, I don't miss the scale at all. I see it, every once in a while, flipped over on its side, shoved into the corner of the cupboard, covered in dust and I don't feel tempted to pull it out. I just don't feel like I need to know how much I weigh anymore. I know how my body feels. And that is what is important to me now.
Ditching the scale gave me the freedom to recognize that a number on a scale can never define me or inform people about the type of person I am. I have so much to offer this world. I am worthy of love and affection. I am worthy of respect. I deserve to feel great about my body. And no number can or will ever change that.
I wish more of us could. see that we are not a number. We never have been and we never will be. We are each unique spirits with incredible potential.
It is so important to care for the bodies we inhabit, but sometimes that care doesn't look like we think it will. I feel like the most important thing we can do to care for our body is to first, stop judging it. Embracing body positivity, body love, body acceptance begins with recognizing that there is nothing inherantly BAD about your body or your Self. Our bodies are NOT our burdens - they are the most precious things we will ever own - and the most sacred places we will ever inhabit. And we each only ever... ever get one of them.
Learning to love your body is a journey, and there aren't any rules or maps or directions on exactly how to make that journey. Each person's path to self-acceptance is their own and will come with its own unique challenges and rewards.
As with any good journey, though, it's not about where you end up, it's about having the courage to take the first few steps with a sense of curiousity and wonder and just see where they take you. You never know where the path will lead. But the experience of walking it will transform you.
Self Care is a Journey
I had a difficult day on Saturday.
The responsibility for having such a difficult day lies fully with me, however I like to see days like this as opportunities for growth; to learn even more about myself and how to better care for my body and spirit through the practice of Yoga.
I've been offered some amazing opportunities, recently, to attend development workshops designed for Yoga Teachers to expand their knowledge and improve their offerings to their students at an affordable rate that makes these opportunities for expanded learning accessible to many. These workshops are led by highly respected Yoga Instructors in the local community.
These workshops have been an amazing blessing in my life. I generally get to attend at least two each month and I always seem to take away something really valuable from them. Some of the recent workshops I've attended have focused on topics like Mantras, Important Muscles in Yoga (like the pit of the abdomen, and the Serratus Anterior), the Sacrum, Yoga Mythology, and more.
This last Saturday, the workshop I was attending focused on some intersections between Buddhist philosophy and Yoga, particularly with relation to the Subtle Body. I had been particularly excited about this workshop because it sounded like it was going to get into some areas that I haven't had much exposure to, yet.
The topic of the workshop was fascinating. The instructor shared his views on the buddhist philosophies surrounding the Subtle Body, and how the energy channels that run through the body can be accessed through a practice of Yoga Postures. He spent over an hour on the lecture portion of the workshop and then began to lead us in a Yoga Posture sequence designed to help us light up these areas of our Subtle Body.
I'd had a gradually worsening headache throughout the first portion of the class. I had tried to ignore it so that I could pay attention to the instructor. But when the physical portion of the practice began, I became immediately discouraged when I realized that even down-dog was causing me pain. But, instead of listening to my body, I was listening to my mind telling me to do whate everyone else was doing. To not draw attention to myself by doing something different. Then the instructor began to lead a series of very advanced postures that were beyond my capabilities to do safely: advanced twists, arm balances, and inversions.
And that is when, emotionally, I just sort of shut down. I had been struggling with the warm-up portion of the practice already because of my headache. But as he began leading everyone in Tree Pose with half-lotus, followed by Warrior III, followed by a series of advanced seated twists, advanced Bridge variations and more... I was forced to face the fact that the entire sequence of postures he was teaching were too advanced for me to participate safely.
Normally, in the interest of self-care, I would modify each pose so that I could access the same intentions/energies of the practice through poses designed for my body. But my head was pounding I was so distracted by my discomfort that I was unable to come up with alternatives for most of them. So, I tried to do a few of them anyway, hurting myself in the process until finally - I just stopped. I did a few gentle twists, and squats, and rested, but all the while I was feeling sorry for myself and embarassed at my inability to "keep up".
While the instructor led the class in Shoulderstand and several variations, followed by plow pose, I rested in Legs-Up-The-Wall and tried not to cry from frustration. I hadn't been able to connect to my subtle body because I was focusing all my energy on how I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing. I felt embarassed and stuck. I had essentially trapped myself with my thoughts. By the time we got to Savasana, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically tense. I just couldn't let go.
After the workshop, I realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself at every single one of these workshops to "keep up". I was putting myself in the position of being the "spokesperson" for fat health. I was so committed to making sure I could "prove" that Fat Yogis could still be awesome Yogis that I had become totally disconnected with the entire reason I practice and teach Yoga in the first place: to experience (and share with others) the profound transformation that can take place when you accept yourself, and love your body.
Knowing that compassion for myself is what my Yoga Practice is all about doesn't always make it easier to put into practice. And in these moments, when I want so desperately to be a wonderful example of a Fat Yoga Teacher who can keep up with all the other Yoga Teachers, it can FEEL impossible.
This was a necessary lesson for me. In my excitement to be among my Yoga Teacher Peers, I forgot the most important thing about my Yoga: Acceptance and Care of my Self. I failed to care for myself when I got caught up in ego and competition and "trying to prove I could keep up" instead of doing what my body needed in the moment: which was truly to just sit.
It can take a great deal of courage to do your yoga differently in a class environment. I remind my students many times in each class I teach that it's OKAY if their yoga looks different. It's OKAY if they are resting during a pose that is not right for them that day and it's OKAY if they do a completely different pose if that is what they are called to do. It is easy to be compassionate with others. It is easy for me to remind my students to treat their body with care and listen to what their body needs. But compassion and care for self is something I find much more challenging than compassion and care for others.
Body acceptance, and body positivity are not something attained in the blink of an eye - if they are ever fully attained at all. Rather, this self-love is work. Hard work. Learning to truly accept and love and care for yourself, properly, all the time takes constant attention and diligence.
In retrospect, I learned a lot this weekend about how I have been approaching these Yoga Teacher development workshops. I'd been approaching them with a sense of pride and ego and "I can do what you can do". I learned that I need to leave that at the door if I am to get the most out of these experiences. I need to work even harder to listen to my own body - even more than I listen to the instructor at times. I need to self-care and ensure my body has what it needs to practice safely.
Most of all: I need to remember that my Yoga will always look different. Because I am different. Not better than. Not less than. Just different. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering about Yoga - that it is different for everybody and every BODY.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Nelson Mandela
I know I haven't posted in a while, I've been busy studying like a good Yoga Teacher in Training! But, what better excuse for a new post than one in honour of Love Your Body Day (October 19th) and End Fat Talk Week (October 16-22nd)!!
If you've read my previous posts in this blog, then you are already well aware that I am a very body-positive kind of gal. But that doesn't mean that I still don't struggle. It is difficult to be body-positive in a not-very-body-positive sort of world.
Every single day, I am bombarded with messages that fat is bad and thin is in. I am surrounded by people who use self-deprecating talk. Nothing is more demoralizing than being in a room filled with women who all talk about how they hate their bodies, and that is my every day reality. Making comments about hating your hips, your muffin-top, your thighs, your hair, your nose, your whatever - seems to be a socially acceptable way for women to bond with each other. By choosing to love my body, I am forever excluded from that club. Not being a member is okay with me, but it doesn't change the fact that the constant message surrounding me is that the majority of women behave this way, so I should too.
I get funny looks and arched eyebrows when everyone in the room (most of them quite slender) are talking about their diets and I am just sipping my coffee and keeping my mouth shut. After all, as the fat girl in the room, I should be right there on the bandwagon with them, right? Except that I'm not.
I don't want to feel obligated to make some socially acceptable comment about feeling guilty about that brownie I'm about to eat. I'd rather eat the brownie, enjoy it, and move on with my day rather than spend more time feeling guilty about the indulgence than finding pleasure in it. In my opinion, I have two choices: eat the brownie, or don't eat the brownie. If I CHOOSE to eat the brownie, than I'm going to pay attention and enjoy it. If I choose NOT to eat the brownie, it's going to be because I'm not hungry, it doesn't sound appetizing, and I don't want to - not because I feel guilty or have outlawed brownies.
Being body-positive is a challenge. It makes me unpopular at times. That's hard. We are, after all, social creatures and most of us spend our lives craving the acceptance of others. But it's a lifestyle I am committed to living. It makes me happy. It makes me feel like I can do anything. EVERYONE deserves to feel that way.
Have you ever seen the movie Mean Girls? In one scene, all the "popular" girls pose in front of the mirror declaring something they hate about themselves while the others offer insincere pity and nods of understanding. The heroine of the tale, having been homeschooled and not exposed to this odd 'game' can't figure out what to say she hates about her body - so she tries and ends up confessing that she has really bad breath in the morning. The thing is, having not been exposed to peer pressure her whole life, she had no concept of why she even *should* dislike anything about her body. So, when pressured to come up with something - she couldn't. It's a playful and glaring example of the ways that body-hate is "popular" and body-love is not understood or accepted in a general way.
When a fat girl says "I love my body exactly how it is", she risks being met with shock, disgust, pity, or even outrage. How dare I, as a fat person, choose to stay fat? The very idea! It's completely unrelatable to most.
Maybe it's unrealistic to expect that people would nod approvingly at this declaration, the same as they would if I said "Wow, I hate being fat, I need to go on a diet!". But it's what needs to start happening. We need to start recognizing that how someone chooses to occupy their body is their choice and to live your life accepting yourself is a pretty big accomplishment. Let's start acknowledging it as such!
We all need to look at the message we send to our friends, our coworkers, our family members, and even strangers when we withhold our approval, affection, or encouragement from those who seem happy with themselves or refuse to engage in fat talk or self-deprecating behaviours.
Why is it easier to encourage someone on a diet "You can do it!" "I'm so proud of you", than it is to offer approval over loving their body and feeling confident "It's so great that you are comfortable in your body, how awesome!".
The bottom line is, that it doesn't matter what colour your skin is, where you come from, how tall, short, fat, thin, muscled, scrawny, non-stereotypical, feminine, non-feminine, masculine, non-masculine, curvy, straight, bendy, pimpled, bald, furry, or unusual your appearance is because...
"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" ~ Buddha
This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival
For more information about Love Your Body Day, Body-Positivity, or the fight to end Fat Talk, I would encourage you to visit these fantastic sites for more information, resources, and general fabulousness:
NOW Foundation's Love Your Body Day
Take the pledge to End Fat Talk
The Body Positive